Brand Differentiation: 7 Proven Methods to Stand Out

Ecommerce Best Practices | 7 mins

What do you do if you look around your industry and realize that your brand feels lost in the crowd? Maybe your brand has a similar look and feel to your competitors, or there’s not a clear reason why customers should pick your products, or you’re just struggling to communicate what exactly it is that makes your brand so special. Whatever the case, a failure to differentiate your brand has far-reaching implications for the health and strength of your business.

The problem is, if your brand isn’t distinct within your vertical, customers will default to buying the cheapest product. Alternatively, a well-defined brand with inherent value can command a higher price. We’re also living in an increasingly undiversified world. A Deloitte report found that customers are increasingly choosing generic and store-brand products instead of national brands because of their lower price and equivalent quality. It’s more crucial than ever to set your brand apart—and luckily, there are lots of ways to do it.

1. Find Your Unique Value

No two businesses are alike. Whether it’s aspects of your product, messaging, experience, brand, or something else, identify what makes you you.

Start by picking one or a handful of these characteristics and create a plan to communicate them to your potential customers. This could involve a new marketing campaign, adjusting your brand and product messaging to better highlight these features, creating new content around these different themes, and more.

Doing firsthand research into your customer base through surveys or social listening can uncover a lot. Your strengths might not be what you expect, but once you find them, it will be that much harder for your competitors to encroach on the market share you’ve won.

2. Focus on Reaching and Educating Your Customers

A struggle to differentiate can be caused by a lack of information. If your customers don’t know why you’re different, then you aren’t different from your competitors. To that end, brands looking to differentiate need to make it a priority to clearly and simply communicate their values as well as their benefits.

Part of this means you need to know your audience and how best to speak to them, as well as the right channels through which to reach them. For example, written walkthroughs or tutorial videos are an effective way to best communicate this information. These could live on your website, but may reach more customers on YouTube, or when shared on a site where customers go to get their questions answered, like Reddit.

Thought leadership is also an excellent way to get the word out about what your brand stands for in places that your customers read and respect. Once you learn where your customers consume information, it’s that much easier to start educating them.

3. Keep Your Competition in Mind

How do you know if your brand is differentiated from your competitors’ if you don’t know what your competitors are saying? Read their websites, sign up for their newsletters, set up Google alerts, go to their retail stores, subscribe to their social channels, and put yourself in the position of a customer buying their products. What stands out? What’s easy? What’s difficult? This process will help you find where your competition struggles and how you can lead within your category.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Break the Rules

There are a lot of rules in any industry. Many formal regulations are there for the good of customers and the general public, and shouldn’t be violated. However, there are plenty of unspoken rules, or just ingrained thinking about the way things should be done, that can be approached from a different angle.

If you can find the assumptions that are inherent in your vertical and find out how to break out of them, then you can truly differentiate yourself from the competition. It’s not easy, but that’s how you lead an Industry and gain a truly competitive position. For example, buying luggage used to be a pretty uninspiring purchase, based on finding the right size and style for your needs and tastes from the most convenient brand or retailer.

Away Luggage changed that by focusing on actually solving the problems travelers face, instead of creating just another case to pack your clothes in. By listening to customers’ needs, they added innovations like a built in laundry bag and phone charger, cutting out the middleman and taking their products directly to consumers. Identifying spaces in the user experience that can be subverted and improved upon means you can appeal to a new generation of travelers.

5. Pursue Alternative Financing

Alternative financing is a relatively simple way to stands in stark contrast to the competition. Some brands will always try to win the race to the bottom, others have to keep prices high, but financing can help keep your products affordable without undercutting your pricing or turning away shoppers.

Offering alternative financing can be a good way to help customers manage larger orders without having to worry about paying for everything all at once, or putting the entire balance on their credit card. That’s why point of sale financing is rapidly gaining ground—over the last six years, banks have lost 12 percentage points of market share to companies that offer POS financing, while those same solutions have gained 33 percentage points. If you decide that raising prices will help you gain a premium position, it never hurts to make it easier to buy.

Most markets are built upon how much products cost, so starting with your pricing is a smart way to begin planning your differentiation strategy.

6. Consider Your Customer Service

Customer service is a differentiator, and a great experience is something shoppers are actively seeking out from the brands they patronize. If you don’t offer it, your shoppers will go elsewhere. But, if your experience is truly memorable, your customers will actually pay a premium just to buy from you. Investing in top-tier customer service can have a big positive financial impact.

Today, 80% of consumers prioritize experience just as highly as products or services, 65% of consumers view quality of service in-store as a key element in deciding where to shop, and 67% of consumers say customer services encourages them to stay longer and spend more money.

A more customer-centric business will stand out in sharp relief from those in your vertical that don’t pay such close attention to their consumers.

7. Create an Emotional Connection with Experience

Your customer experience is inherently emotional, and these emotions drive your customers’ decision making process. This emotional connection means customers are more engaged and more loyal to you, instead of your competition.

Airbnb has done a great job of creating a more personal experience for their users and highlighting the stories of the people who rent properties on their site. They’re combining the importance of shared respect and trust along with the excitement of travel, winning over customers with an experience that resonates more than booking an impersonal stay at a hotel.

If you want your customer experience to be truly unique, then establishing an emotional connection with your users is a must. Research from the Journal of Consumer Research has shown that more than 50% of CX is based on emotions that help shape decisions.

Another study by Oracle found that 74% of senior executives believe that customer experience impacts the willingness of a customer to be a loyal advocate. Plus, a Gallup study found that businesses that optimize for a more emotional connections in their customer experience see 85% more sales growth compared to competitors that do not. CX and the emotional element are what end up creating the kind of engagement and loyalty that lasts a lifetime.

If you want to truly stand out, it takes the resolve to go against the grain and set out in your own way. To recap:

  • Find the value your brand brings to the table.
  • Educate your stakeholders about your brand’s unique story.
  • Watch and learn from the competition so you can do the opposite.
  • Don’t be afraid to break the rules and take a different approach.
  • Use alternative financing to stand out at the point of sale.
  • Focus on offering industry-best service.
  • Use emotion to make your customer experience truly stand out.

Brand differentiation is one of the most difficult journeys a business can embark on, but it can also be one of the most rewarding. For more insights on building an effective ecommerce business, sign up for Bread’s monthly newsletter.